Bobby LeFebre multitasks to a hip-hop beat.
In his waning 30s, he’s a word architect, arts advocate and cultural worker. He slams poetry, writes plays, raises excitement and spreads the spoken word. And as of July 2019, the DU alumnus is Colorado’s eighth poet laureate — not to mention its first poet laureate of color and the youngest person ever to receive the honor.
Unlike previous poet laureates, LeFebre doesn’t write for publication but rather for amplification. You won’t find his works on a page inside a bound volume. Instead, you’ll hear them pulsating around a packed auditorium or coffee shop. And chances are he’s headed for your Colorado ZIP code.
“I was pretty excited that the governor and the selection team decided to do something different,” LeFebre says of his appointment. “I think poets laureate of the past have traditionally been [drawn from] a small representation of what constitutes poetry and what poetry can mean. To take it from this heady academic tradition to a newer aesthetic approach, I thought was very bold.”
His plans for the next four years are just as bold. “I want to center, elevate and amplify marginalized voices — voices that have traditionally been left out of this position, voices that have not been reached, stories that have been undertold,” he says. “[And] I’m really excited about bringing back the performative nature of poetry — the communal aspects of it, the oral traditions. I think that for too long we relegated poetry to books and to heady academic settings. I really want to humanize poetry and show how it can be useful in people’s everyday lives.”
A Colorado native, LeFebre grew up in a neighborhood that gave him a profound appreciation for place. “My family has lived in north Denver for generations. My great- grandparents moved into north Denver in the ’60s, and my grandparents, parents and I still live there,” he says
He came to performance via an eighth-grade theater/history project about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. “I played a racist baseball player that didn’t want to have Jackie Robinson on the team,” he recalls. And he came to poetry soon after, recording his own rhymes and raps. “Listening to hip-hop informed the faculty I have for language,” he says.
After graduating from North High School, LeFebre earned a degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University of Denver. By the time he enrolled at DU — in the master’s program in arts and culture at University College — he had emerged as a driving force in Denver’s alternative arts scene, winning major slam poetry awards and founding Café Cultura, a nonprofit that cultivates the creative voices of youth from Latino and indigenous populations.
His Denver stomping grounds inspired one of his most recent efforts, “Northside,” a play that follows a handful of couples living in a neighborhood confronting rapid demographic and social change. The play sold out 23 consecutive shows and then returned to Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center for a second engagement.
LeFebre credits much of his occupational dexterity to University College, where he studied with former Colorado poet laureate Joseph Hutchison and honed his skills in arts administration. By the time he graduated in 2013, he had learned to be a better wordsmith, advocate and activist.
As poet laureate, he expects to capitalize on all of his accomplishments. But first he’ll need to stop marveling over his good fortune.
“Truth be told,” he says, “there are so many people who could be here. I’m grateful it’s me, but there are tons of amazing writers and poets in this state [who] could be in this seat. I want to use this position to bring others along on this crazy journey.”